RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC) is dedicated to combating our institution’s prolonged history of anti-Blackness, marginalization, and discrimination along with the intersections of global systems of oppression affecting our community. We support and advocate for the needs of all students of color regardless of ethnicity, race, disability, gender, or sexuality.

Response of Division of Institutional Engagement

June 30 2020

Written By:
O'Neil A.S. Outar,
Vice President of Institutional Engagement

Sent to:
RISD & Race Forum Speakers

On behalf of the Division of Institutional Engagement, I am pleased to share with you our inclusion and diversity plan and ask that you share these materials with your fellow students for input and feedback. The plan, which was first created in February 2019, is updated periodically and will be next reviewed with the division later this summer as part of our ongoing planning for the next fiscal year. We welcome your ideas and contributions.

Before I provide details on our plans and progress, let me first acknowledge that I also feel RISD does not have enough BIPOC alumni and parents engaged in the life of the institution. In addition, the field of advancement—fundraising, alumni and family relations, communications and government relations—does not reflect the student body that we serve. This discrepancy, which exists nationally as well as at RISD, is a problem that I am personally and professionally committed to fixing, and this commitment is shared by my colleagues in Institutional Engagement.

I joined RISD two and a half years ago to rebuild and redefine an organization that had atrophied over the previous twenty years from a lack of investment. After a year-long process of strategic and financial planning, we began establishing a new organization and new processes approximately 18 months ago.

Institutional Engagement’s primary constituencies are RISD alumni and parents, so our plan prioritizes inclusion and belonging: we need to be an organization that welcomes and engages with everyone. Inclusion and diversity are cornerstone values that define the actions of any excellent advancement organization, and we genuinely aspire to, plan for, and track our progress towards this goal. We also are mindful that there is not one path to creating successful engagement across a broad range of communities. Reaching different communities means adopting a variety of engagement strategies and programs through which we can mirror a diversity of cultures, values and experiences.

The most visible result of RISD’s underinvestment has been low engagement among alumni in almost every measurable dimension. Reclaiming these alumni has been our highest priority, and I am pleased to report that the new Alumni Association, which we recreated and relaunched in June 2019, has already led to tremendous improvements. A key to our efforts has also been creating affinity groups that enable and facilitate alumni-to-alumni and alumni-to-student connections around shared interests. RISD in Tech, the first affinity group, launched in December 2019. We are also actively engaged with volunteers to develop new groups with the goal of launching a Black Alumni Affinity Group and a LGBTQ+ Affinity Group in fall 2020, with other groups to follow.

In addition, we will formally launch the RISD Families Association in just a few weeks, which will replace the Parents’ Council. The new association will no longer require a minimum donation to participate. It will also feature expanded programming, including a parent-to-parent mentoring program called RISD Families Ambassadors, to support and engage families of all types.

Because alumni relations is about reestablishing and maintaining personal lifelong connections with RISD, especially among volunteers, it takes many years of sustained effort and a deep commitment to establishing structures that are based on inclusion and diversity to ensure success. Institutional Engagement needs to appeal to and welcome everyone who attended or has an interest in RISD, not some of them. We are dedicated to creating partnerships with our volunteers and alumni, to listening and responding to their needs so that together we can create the kind of innovative programming that you and your fellow students will want to experience when you are alumni. Later this year our staff will begin an ongoing set of workshops designed to help our staff better understand how to embrace differences among employees and volunteers and including the valuable inputs and perspectives all employees and volunteers bring to RISD.

When Institutional Engagement began to grow, the senior management group and staff established our Inclusion and Diversity plan in February 2019. We remain committed today to the objectives we established then:

1. Increase staff and vendor diversity, to, at a minimum, reflect the diversity of the student body

2. Build a more inclusive community of donors and volunteers to, at a minimum, reflect the diversity of the student body  

3. Create tools to promote transparency of efforts and outcomes

We have made significant progress on several aspects of the plan, while others require more time and investment as our organization grows. Among our top priorities are increasing engagement between staff and volunteers to ensure that we increase our proportion of BIPOC leaders. Also, the management reports to monitor diversity and retention in applicant, interview and hiring pools are in the development queue with the Office of Human Resources.

Advancement as a profession has been frustratingly slow to diversify, with only 12 percent of professionals in the field reporting as BIPOC. To grow the talent pipeline, we have sponsored six paid internships over the last two summers through one of our professional association’s diversity-focused summer programs. Our partner search firms, as a requirement of our agreement, have prioritized BIPOC candidates for our open positions.

The challenges are similar with volunteers. Given the experiences you and other BIPOC students shared during the listening session a few weeks ago, finding BIPOC alumni interested in volunteering has been challenging. Our hope is that with sustained effort we will be able engage BIPOC alumni who may be interested in connecting with and supporting students.

Somewhat separately, in my own role as the liaison to the Board of Trustees Committee on Trustees and Governance, last summer I worked with the President and Board to develop the Board of Trustees Seven-Year Plan which includes the following goal: “Ensure that the Board race/ethnicity, international, gender and general demographic composition reflects that of the student body.” The plan has been ratified by the Board, and we have actively begun the process of developing a pipeline of potential board candidates in support of this priority.

I hope this context is helpful for you and your fellow students. Institutional Engagement’s purpose is to advance RISD’s mission by strategically fostering lifelong relationships with alumni, parents, friends and organizations to strengthen goodwill and philanthropy. We are dedicated to bringing as many perspectives as we can to bear on every aspect of our work, and we are grateful for any insight you can bring to us.

RISD is, and always will be, your institution. I invite you and your fellow students to share your feedback on this plan and partner with us to advance RISD forward together.

— O’Neil Outar and the Institutional Engagement Senior Management Group
Joanne Ferchland-Parella, Senior Executive Director, Development
Evan Gallivan, Executive Director, Campaign Planning + Strategy 
Christina Hartley, Executive Director, Alumni + Family Relations 
Andrea Marth, Executive Director, Advancement Services
Amee Spondike, Deputy Director for External Relations, RISD Museum

View PDF Document Here.